There is a lot of discussion on how tablets (iPads) are replacing PCs. I have been generally skeptical of this view based on tablet usage data (1, 2).
The discussion for tablets replacing PCs is generally based on the decline of PC sales coinciding with the rise in tablet sales. This is true. However, there is little discussion on cause and effect. It is totally possible that these sales trends are not strongly related; they may simply have happened at the same time by coincidence.
Also, there are many tech bloggers and analysts who claim that they have managed to get by on their iPads alone, and only using their PCs very rarely. Or some people will claim that their parents have simple needs which are completely covered by an iPad. I have no reason to doubt these arguments, but on the other hand, I have very little reason to believe that the majority of users, especially in corporations, would feel and act the same way.
What is sorely missing in the vast majority of discussions, is how corporations are actually deploying iPad. Things like to following;
- How many people in the organization are getting iPads?
- What are iPads being used for by which people?
- Do the people who use iPads stop using their PCs?
- How do the iPads integrate with the preexisting corporate IT setup?
We can only reach a good idea of the potential market size of corporate tablets if we carefully analyze these points.
A few days ago, an article was published on ITMedia (a Japanese IT publication) that described how and why a large company introduced iPads into their IT infrastructure. I thought that it was very insightful and I have listed some points below. It tells us what iPads are good for, and importantly, why they limited distribution to only their managers and executives.
- The company is Mizkan, a food company that has been around for 210 years (a history almost as long as that of the United States of America). This company has 2,900 employees and a revenue of 170 billion yen (~1.7 billion USD).
- They have been using IBM Lotus Notes/Domino within their IT infrastructure since 1996.
- One main function of the Notes system was workflow management. Since their business involves products that can directly damage customer’s health, accountability is key. They need to have a strict approval process.
- The managers who are responsible for the approvals are often on the road, who are often not able to frequently open their laptops. This led to delays in the approval workflow.
- They installed “Lotus Notes Traveller” into iPads together with some custom applications designed to work together with Notes. These iPads were handed out to the managers and executives who were responsible for approvals.
- As a result, they were able to significantly reduce the time to get approvals from all concerned executives and managers.
- Some executives have expressed that they don’t take their PCs around anymore and that the iPad is sufficient when on the road or at home.
- Importantly, Mizkan has no plans to introduce iPads to their lower-level office workers. This is because whereas executives rarely have to prepare documents themselves, normal employees have many jobs which use keyboards extensively. Mizkan predicts that normal employees will not be able to complete their tasks on tablets alone.
My takeaway from this article is the following;
- Corporate IT has many more functions that email, document/file sharing and project management. There functions are already provided by legacy solutions.
- The new generation devices (smartphones and tablets) are not going to replace corporate IT infrastructure overnight. Instead, they have to integrate with the current systems. This means integration with Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange and all the other solutions that corporate IT have accumulated.
- The majority of workers in the office are going to stick to PCs. Hence PCs will most likely remain in the center.
Will tablets never replace PCs? I don’t necessarily think so. I think they eventually will. But I think it is increasingly important to reflect on Steve Jobs’ own words as he introduced the iPad;
- Better at browsing the web than a laptop.
- Better at Email.
- Better at enjoying and sharing photographs.
- Better at watching videos.
- Better at enjoying your music collection.
- Better at playing games.
- Better at reading eBooks.
If there is going to be a third category of device, it gonna have to better at these kinds of tasks than a laptop or a smartphone. Otherwise, it has no reason for being.
Extending Steve’s discussion, if the iPad is going to replace the PC, it’s gonna have to better than a laptop at current corporate IT tasks.
That’s a pretty tall order.